Tea bonus fails to excite farmers as money spent on paying debts

Following a decrease in tea prices and rising production costs, many farmers are drowning in debt. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

For years, tea bonus payments were a significant source of relief and joy for farmers in the country.

The extra income provided an opportunity to invest in their farms, support their families, or simply enjoy a well-deserved break. However, this year's bonus has brought a sense of unease rather than celebration.

According to Peter Mwangi, a small-scale tea farmer, the majority of them have resorted to borrowing money to sustain their operations.

Following a decrease in tea prices and rising production costs, many farmers are drowning in debt.

"The tea bonus payment used to be a time of great excitement for us, but this year, the bonus will go straight into repaying loans that I took to sustain my farming operations and other needs," he said.

He added that he fears being auctioned by a ruthless loan shylock as he is struggling to repay the debt he took and finds himself trapped.

"I had high hopes for the tea bonus. Now, I live in fear that my belongings will be auctioned since I cannot repay the Sh60,000 I borrowed for school fees and personal development. It seems like all the money will just go towards clearing the debts I accumulated throughout the year," he said.

Beatrice Wangui, who delivers her tea at the Iria-ini tea factory, has nothing to smile about after learning that the factory has been listed among the lowest-paying in terms of bonuses to farmers.

"It feels like a never-ending cycle. We borrow money to survive and invest in our farms, hoping for a bumper harvest, but the return on investment is often not enough to cover our debts. The tea bonus was our only hope, but now it just feels like a drop in the ocean," she said.

She added that the dire financial situation has taken a toll on the farmers' enthusiasm and motivation.

"The factory will pay us a bonus of Sh38, with loan repayments consuming the bonus pay, there is little left to invest in necessary resources to improve crop yield, such as fertilizers and better machinery," she said.

Milka Wanja a tea farmer from Magutu East in Mathira said she is demoralised and demotivated due to the poor bonus payment at a time when the Kenyan shilling is trading at Sh150 against the US dollar and wondered why farmers should not be paid in dollars. 

 "Farmers are drowning deeper into debts as they are not able to service their loans," Wanja lamented.  

Kariuki Kanyua a farmer from Ndima Tea Factory in Kirinyaga expressed a similar sentiment after filing a top-up loan at local credit Sacco in  Kibingoti, Kirinyaga. 

"Almost everyone here has a loan in the bank and we are worried that we might not be able to repay the debts due to the high cost of living," Kanyua said.

Kenya Tea Development Agency disbursed Sh37.1 Billion as the final payment of tea bonus for the 2022/23 financial year a tea farmer getting an average of Sh36 per kg.

In Murang’a county with 10 tea factories, there has been little activity with revelations that many of the farmers are indebted with proceeds from bonuses used to repay debts.

A survey in the markets and shopping centres along the tea-growing region revealed there has been less activity as compared to previous years.

James Kamau a resident of Gatura village in Gatanga Constituency said out of his Sh120,000 bonus he received  Sh50,000 was spent to repay a shylock debt.

Kamau said the rest was paid to clear the school fees balances for his children.

“It is a pity that most of my friends had nothing to celebrate. Tea farmers require financial literacy education to help them manage their finances,” said Kamau.

Chairman of Mt Kenya and Aberdare Tea farmers Wambugu Gachunji said the payment was affected by the dollar exchange rate.

Speaking to The Standard, Wambugu said at Kanyenya-ini tea factory they expected payment of Sh45 per kilogramme, instead, they got Sh37.50 per kilogramme delivered.

“There has been no celebration but hope in the coming years will get more. In the year, the green leaf production was affected by the prolonged drought thus reducing income,” said Wambugu.

Ikumbi tea factory vice chairman Mr Gerald Ngumba said there was a programme introduced to help farmers in financial management.

He concurs that there is a dire need to help the farmers deal with the debt menace to enable them to sustain themselves.

“There were such programmes to help the farmers mitigate the situation with a better green leaf payment in the coming years,” said Ngumba.

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